After the massacre: Sabra and Shatila, twenty-seven years later


Beirut – Ma’an – “That is the old Israeli watchtower and entrance to Sabra,” a man on the street pointed, standing in front of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camps. Below the tower, quarantined like a civil war time capsule, were the camps left to fend for themselves on the outskirts of Beirut.

No more than 20 meters past the former Israeli watchtower, in an empty lot, is the memorial for the victims of the 1982 Lebanon Civil War massacre. Camp residents say the site was once a mass grave for the slain. The memorial was a single-track dirt path linking a series of billboards with images of the dead.

The massacres perpetrators were of the predominantly Christian Phalange party: supplied, supported and supervised by on-looking Israeli soldiers.

The Phalangist pogrom was clear. What was not, however, was the extent of the crime. At the time of the massacre, the Director of Israeli Military Intelligence said that between the days of September 16 and 18, 1982, a minimum of 700 “terrorists” had been killed. Yet, reporter for the Independent Robert Fisk wrote in his book, Pity the Nation, “Phalangist officers I knew in east Beirut told me that at least 2,000 ‘terrorists’—women as well as men—had been killed in Chatila.” The real number, according to Fisk, is thought to be higher.

Leaving the mass grave memorial and moving into the open-air market of the Sabra camp, a bullet-ridden wall stands separating a camp dump from its market. In all likelihood the half-block dumping ground was once on the fringes of the camp, but not anymore. The camp had no urban planner, so it grew until the market fully encircled the awful collection of stench, sewage and a sore reminder that nobody really intended to be living in the Sabra camp some sixty-years after the Nakba- the Palestinian exodus of 1948.

At the far end of the bullet-chafed wall stood a child of about ten years, a refugee. With little hesitation he immersed himself into the filthy heap, heaving his woven sack of valued rubbish over the rotting mounds. For all the archetypes of the poverty-ridden Palestinian refugee that exists in a foreigner’s consciousness, this is surely it. There was to be no school for this boy. No passport, no rights and no state.

Beyond the heap hung layers of political propaganda posters: A keffiyehed militant with the bold letters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine plastered next to a green-tinted portrait of Hamas’ founder Sheik Yassin with the party logo “Martyrs of Freedom & Victory;” a weathered PLO poster of Arafat; even one of a masked fighter on a tank, clutching a Kalashnikov with the brand of Islamic Jihad. And the posters were not just of Palestinian parties, but of the Lebanese Amal and Hezbollah as well. As a nearby shopkeeper who sold Hezbollah DVD’s put it, “The camp is mixed now… mixed with Palestinians and [Lebanese] Shias… United by resistance…”

Despite appearances, however, inside the Lebanese Army’s encirclement of the camp a surprisingly calm business-as-usual air prevailed. The streets weren’t crowded, but populated. The buyers, the sellers, and of course the children, were everywhere, looking to relieve the gnawing boredom of a lifetime’s confinement to the camp. “We are not allowed to leave [the camps],” one of the sellers said, “No papers.”

United resistance aside, the camp was in shambles. Everything the Lebanese government might do in Sabra and Shatila—urban planning, paving streets, coordinating an electrical grid, sewage—was left to the Palestinian residents. At the beginning, however, the camp played host to the bigwigs of the Palestinian leadership in the Palestine Liberation Organization, who organized camp life and connected the residents to the Palestinian struggle.

The powerful PLO, back in 1982, provided the motive of the massacre’s perpetrators, the Christian Phalange militia, who sought to take revenge against PLO leaders—which had in fact already fled Lebanon—for the alleged assassination of the Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel. But the only people who remained in the camps that summer of 1982 were unarmed Palestinians.

What happened at Sabra and Shatila is still considered the bloodiest single event in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is also among the most egregious and underreported aspects of the Palestinian calamity to date.

On the anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, 16 September, the issue of the refugees and the right of return reaches again for the surface of Palestinian politics. With the newly-charged peace process being pushed by the United States, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s recently released strategy to establish Palestinian state in two years, the issue of returnees has been subsumed by talk of settlements in the West Bank.

American efforts, and Fayyad’s plan focus more on securing infrastructure and borders than focusing on the estimated 500,000 refugees without rights in Lebanon, or the hundreds of thousands of others in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and in the Gulf.

Palestinians in the camps have a precarious relationship with the current peace initiatives, particularly the older generation who still recall the villages they fled in 1948 and 1967.

“Sure I would support Obama’s plan,” an old man reflects on the US President’s push for a two-state solution. “But what kind of solution is it? I have nothing in this West Bank… it would make me a foreigner in my own land… I would only go back to my village. And I don’t even know what is there now.”

He picks up an old hatchet from his coffee table and continues, “They [the Zionists] chased us and hit us on the head with these. I left my small village near Acre [Akko] because of it.”



A message to the whole world from the children of Gaza…..

A true narrative and photos , By Ayman Quader

Since the establishment of the Palestinian refugee camps in 1949 as part of the aftermath of the Palestine-Israel conflict, the Palestinian refugees have been gravely suffering and are considered the longest suffering from this injustice.They are denied the basic access to life itself. It is worth mentioning that the refugee camps were established as a temporary-living solution for the refugees after they fled or were expelled from their original homes. The living condition of the Palestinian refugee is seriously miserable and lacks the basic daily necessities of life which are needed for a healthy development. The Palestinian refugee problem is totally complex regarding the living conditions as the people live under the line of poverty and are struggling for survival as the number of refugees have been dramatically increasing. The homes of the refugees are so close to each other with only narrow passages for movement.

The family of Al Aqra’a is a fatherless family living in Dair Al Balah Refugee camp in the centre of the Gaza Strip. The long suffering of this particular family is representative of all living in these wretched camps. The situation of this family worsened a few years ago during a siege of Gaza as they lost their sole breadwinner and have been without any means of support since.

Ail Aqran, aged 9 , describes his living conditions as a living burial for him and his family. “We have been living under very harsh living conditions. As for me a 9 year old child what did I do wrong to be treated so cruelly”? The family of Ali consists of 5 people including the mother who struggling to get her siblings a decent life. They live in a structure that is not meant to be a home. The ‘house’ was built of different materials but does not include cement. The only concrete-roofed room was totally destroyed in the recent war on Gaza as this room was hit by a missile during one of the attacks. This room has become a room for the children’s pet cats, not suitable for humans. The rest of the ‘house’ is made of wood that is reinforced with broken asbestos sheets. It is unbearably hot during the summer months. The visitor’s room is sparsely furnished with makeshift furniture of very poor quality.

Most families that lost the main breadwinner of the family lost the emotional support as well. The responsibility of sustaining the family and the increasing demands, in these cases, falls on the shoulders of the mother. They mainly depend of on the charities and the assistance from others.

Ali and his other two brothers usually sleep out of the room, under the sky as the only available hut is only for the mother and the sister. They do not have enough space to sleep inside so the available the space is reserved for the mother and the sister.

I asked Ali about his own personal childhood experiences during the recent war on Gaza. “we were passing through very critical conditions during the time of war as we did not have any safe place any more.” He continued, “look! Look! Look! there is not strong roof that could protect us from the nearby Israeli fire and we were randomly targeted by the Israeli warships as we live near the sea”. Ali added that “we did not evacuate our house during the time day of the war as the UNRWA school shelters were faraway from our house so we kept close to each other. One day in the morning, dozens of shrapnel directly hit our house as well our neighbors and critically injured my friend Mohammed.”

When I asked Ali how he usually spends his spare time, he took a deep breath and replied “I do have spare time to play, but I do not have a space to play. As we are fatherless children, I always try hard to help my mother in taking care of my young siblings and our house. I regularly go to the nearby sea and spend time there with my friends playing on the beach and walking. Sometimes, when we hear a voice from the Israeli warship firing its leads toward the fishermen, we run back to our homes” added Ali.

“I hope we could have spare time like any other young children in the world. I aspire as a Palestinian child to get my rights to play and to have fun like the rest of the world’s children. I hope that conflict, war, violence comes to an end and people live in a peaceful society. The nature of people should be the nature of freedom and security not the nature of killing, hatred, attack and destruction”

More photos from this narrative can be seen HERE


Image “Copyleft’ by Carlos Latuff
I dedicate this artwork to a Palestinian elderly woman called Mrs.
Zarefa, 95 years old, grandmother of the artist and good friend
Mohammed Abo Afefa, whom I had the honour of meeting in Marka/Shnillar
refugee camp, Jordan. She was expelled from Zakrea village to West
Bank by Israeli forces in 1948, and again after 1967 to Jordan. She
can’t go back to homeland. Her right of return was denied by Israel.


Bottom of the bottom

While Arab activists and intellectuals rally to the cause of Palestinian refugees, officialdom in Ramallah denounces their efforts, reports Khalid Amayreh

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) has strongly denounced a recent conference on the plight of Palestinian refugees held in the Syrian capital, Damascus, organised by a coalition of factions and figures dedicated to the right of return, which according to organisers — amongst them Hamas — is the heart and soul of the Palestinian problem.

The conference asserted the centrality of the right of return and warned Palestinian, regional and international players that any resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict not including the repatriation of millions of uprooted refugees to their original homes and villages in what is now called Israel would be strongly rejected by the Palestinian people.

The PA didn’t specifically object to what was said in Damascus, although critics argue that President Mahmoud Abbas and his aides are not sincere about their declared commitment to the right of return. Indeed, Abbas reportedly told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on many occasions that the Palestinians would accept any “just and agreed upon resolution” of the refugee issue. This is a clear departure from the erstwhile Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) position that resolution of the refugee plight would have to be pursuant UN Resolution 194, which calls for both repatriation and indemnification.

Fatah spokesmen in Ramallah criticised the Syrian government for hosting the conference in the first place, saying Syria shouldn’t allow “coup mongers” (an allusion to Hamas) to attack the PLO from Damascus. They also lambasted two prominent Fatah leaders, Farouk Al-Qaddumi and Hani Al-Hassan, for attending. Within the Fatah hierarchy, Al-Qaddumi and Al-Hassan rank second and third respectively after PA President Abbas. However, because of their opposition to the “Oslo process”, and more recently to “excessive collaboration between the PA and Israel”, the Ramallah-based leadership has marginalised each.

Al-Qaddumi said any resolution of the conflict with Israel ignoring or circumventing the right of return would be null and void. “There will be no solution to the Palestinian issue without the return of the refugees,” he said. Al-Qaddumi also attacked the Oslo Accords, saying that Palestinian factions ought to unite behind the resistance and the national constants of the Palestinian people.” But “resistance” is probably the last word the Ramallah leadership would want to hear. Indeed, the PA had undertaken to liquidate pockets of military resistance to the Israeli occupation, at least in the West Bank.

Hakam Balawi, a member of Fatah’s Executive Committee, lambasted Al-Qaddumi for giving a speech at the Damascus conference. “His speech didn’t represent the PLO or Fatah. His participation in the conference underscored his willingness to join forces that are interested in weakening Fatah,” Balawi said in printed statement e-mailed to journalists and reported by pro-Fatah news agencies. Balawi suggested that only the PLO had the right to make policy pronouncements.

A similar statement by Balawi targeted Al-Hassan, also a high-ranking member of Fatah’s Executive Committee.

Irked by the ostensible success of the Damascus conference, PLO figures held a one-day “mini conference” on the refugee issue in Ramallah earlier this week, with several speakers stressing the centrality of the right of return. Participants included junior representatives of Fatah as well as leading figures from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and smaller PLO factions.

One leftist participant, who didn’t want to be identified by name, told Al-Ahram Weekly that, “Fatah wanted to utilise the PLO against Hamas while some other PLO factions wanted Fatah to move away from the American-Israeli axis and re-embrace the traditional Palestinian national constants as well as reassert its commitment to the right of return.”

Leading Palestinian officials, including Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad didn’t attend.

Fatah’s dismay at the Damascus conference lies mainly in the conference’s “untimely” assertion of the right of return. The Fatah leadership in Ramallah realises that the right of return is an extremely contentious issue within the PLO, and even within Fatah itself, which could eventually cause serious internal divisions. Fatah is particularly concerned that Hamas, its main rival, stands to gain from any such divisions.

In truth, the PA leadership is facing a real problem reconciling its public pronouncements with regard to the right of return and its commitments under the peace process with Israel. In private conversations, PA and PLO figures, such as Yasser Abed Rabbo, acknowledge that the repatriation of millions of Palestinian refugees to their homeland in what is now called Israel is an unrealistic goal bordering on fantasy.

In 2003, Abed Rabbo, probably acting on instructions from late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, signed the so-called “Geneva Accord” with former Israeli cabinet minister Yossi Belin. The document effectively scrapped the right of return. Abed Rabbo then adopted the Israeli view, namely that the Palestinians couldn’t expect to have two states — a would- be Palestinian state on the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and an Israel that would have a Palestinian majority if the refugees were to be allowed back to their former homes and villages.

Now, however, Abed Rabbo and like-minded PLO figures are generally keeping their mouths shut on the issue of the refugees and the right of return. They know that the vast majority of Palestinians now look upon their views as not only too dovish but outright treasonous.

According to Hani Al-Masri, a prominent political analyst from Nablus, Abbas and Abed Rabbo and their allies realise that this is not the time to make “audacious utterances” about the right of return in the absence of substantive progress on other issues of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. “The Israelis are expanding the settlements on a daily basis, they are Judaicising what is left of Jerusalem, and they are narrowing Palestinian horizons in every conceivable manner. Under these circumstances, it would disastrous, even a political suicide, for Abbas to declare openly that he would be willing to compromise on the right of return.”

Asked if he thought that the PA was lying to the Palestinian people with regard to its commitment to the refugee cause, Al-Masri said: “Of course they are not telling the truth. They know deep in their heart that the peace process and the international atmosphere, and above all reality on the ground, won’t allow them to demand the full or even partial repatriation of the refugees to their original homes in Israel.”

Al-Masri said Abbas had already voiced willingness to scrap the bulk of the right of return. “The official PA position on the right of return has deteriorated to the bottom of the bottom. Right now, they are saying they would accept a ‘just and agreed-upon resolution’ of the refugee problem. In other words, Israel would have the final say,” Al-Masri said.

Palestinian intellectual and former Israeli Knesset member Azmi Bishara alluded to the inherent contradiction between PA pronouncements regarding the right of return and its actual policies. “If the right of return is negotiable and if continued, open-ended negotiation with Israel is the sole Palestinian strategy towards ending the conflict, this means that the PA will be willing to abandon the right of return.”

Bishara, who was addressing a Ramallah conference, via teleconference from Amman, said the main purpose of the current peace process was to enable the PA to find Arab cover for the effective liquidation of the right of return and other prospective concessions the PA would be forced to make. “Then Abbas would be able to claim that all the Arabs are standing behind him.”



Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, a member of the South African delegation, in the West Bank city of Hebron

Twilight Zone

/ ‘Worse than apartheid’

By Gideon Levy

I thought they would feel right at home in the alleys of Balata refugee camp, the Casbah and the Hawara checkpoint. But they said there is no comparison: for them the Israeli occupation regime is worse than anything they knew under apartheid. This week, 21 human rights activists from South Africa visited Israel. Among them were members of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress; at least one of them took part in the armed struggle and at least two were jailed. There were two South African Supreme Court judges, a former deputy minister, members of Parliament, attorneys, writers and journalists. Blacks and whites, about half of them Jews who today are in conflict with attitudes of the conservative Jewish community in their country. Some of them have been here before; for others it was their first visit.

For five days they paid an unconventional visit to Israel – without Sderot, the IDF and the Foreign Ministry (but with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and a meeting with Supreme Court President Justice Dorit Beinisch. They spent most of their time in the occupied areas, where hardly any official guests go – places that are also shunned by most Israelis.

On Monday they visited Nablus, the most imprisoned city in the West Bank. From Hawara to the Casbah, from the Casbah to Balata, from Joseph’s Tomb to the monastery of Jacob’s Well. They traveled from Jerusalem to Nablus via Highway 60, observing the imprisoned villages that have no access to the main road, and seeing the “roads for the natives,” which pass under the main road. They saw and said nothing. There were no separate roads under apartheid. They went through the Hawara checkpoint mutely: they never had such barriers.

Jody Kollapen, who was head of Lawyers for Human Rights in the apartheid regime, watches silently. He sees the “carousel” into which masses of people are jammed on their way to work, visit family or go to the hospital. Israeli peace activist Neta Golan, who lived for several years in the besieged city, explains that only 1 percent of the inhabitants are allowed to leave the city by car, and they are suspected of being collaborators with Israel. Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, a former deputy minister of defense and of health and a current member of Parliament, a revered figure in her country, notices a sick person being taken through on a stretcher and is shocked. “To deprive people of humane medical care? You know, people die because of that,” she says in a muted voice.

The tour guides – Palestinian activists – explain that Nablus is closed off by six checkpoints. Until 2005, one of them was open. “The checkpoints are supposedly for security purposes, but anyone who wants to perpetrate an attack can pay NIS 10 for a taxi and travel by bypass roads, or walk through the hills.

The real purpose is to make life hard for the inhabitants. The civilian population suffers,” says Said Abu Hijla, a lecturer at Al-Najah University in the city.

In the bus I get acquainted with my two neighbors: Andrew Feinstein, a son of Holocaust survivors who is married to a Muslim woman from Bangladesh and served six years as an MP for the ANC; and Nathan Gefen, who has a male Muslim partner and was a member of the right-wing Betar movement in his youth. Gefen is active on the Committee against AIDS in his AIDS-ravaged country.

“Look left and right,” the guide says through a loudspeaker, “on the top of every hill, on Gerizim and Ebal, is an Israeli army outpost that is watching us.” Here are bullet holes in the wall of a school, there is Joseph’s Tomb, guarded by a group of armed Palestinian policemen. Here there was a checkpoint, and this is where a woman passerby was shot to death two years ago. The government building that used to be here was bombed and destroyed by F-16 warplanes. A thousand residents of Nablus were killed in the second intifada, 90 of them in Operation Defensive Shield – more than in Jenin. Two weeks ago, on the day the Gaza Strip truce came into effect, Israel carried out its last two assassinations here for the time being. Last night the soldiers entered again and arrested people.

It has been a long time since tourists visited here. There is something new: the numberless memorial posters that were pasted to the walls to commemorate the fallen have been replaced by marble monuments and metal plaques in every corner of the Casbah.

“Don’t throw paper into the toilet bowl, because we have a water shortage,” the guests are told in the offices of the Casbah Popular Committee, located high in a spectacular old stone building. The former deputy minister takes a seat at the head of the table. Behind her are portraits of Yasser Arafat, Abu Jihad and Marwan Barghouti – the jailed Tanzim leader. Representatives of the Casbah residents describe the ordeals they face. Ninety percent of the children in the ancient neighborhood suffer from anemia and malnutrition, the economic situation is dire, the nightly incursions are continuing, and some of the inhabitants are not allowed to leave the city at all. We go out for a tour on the trail of devastation wrought by the IDF over the years.

Edwin Cameron, a judge on the Supreme Court of Appeal, tells his hosts: “We came here lacking in knowledge and are thirsty to know. We are shocked by what we have seen until now. It is very clear to us that the situation here is intolerable.” A poster pasted on an outside wall has a photograph of a man who spent 34 years in an Israeli prison. Mandela was incarcerated seven years less than that. One of the Jewish members of the delegation is prepared to say, though not for attribution, that the comparison with apartheid is very relevant and that the Israelis are even more efficient in implementing the separation-of-races regime than the South Africans were. If he were to say this publicly, he would be attacked by the members of the Jewish community, he says.

Under a fig tree in the center of the Casbah one of the Palestinian activists explains: “The Israeli soldiers are cowards. That is why they created routes of movement with bulldozers. In doing so they killed three generations of one family, the Shubi family, with the bulldozers.” Here is the stone monument to the family – grandfather, two aunts, mother and two children. The words “We will never forget, we will never forgive” are engraved on the stone.

No less beautiful than the famed Paris cemetery of Pere-Lachaise, the central cemetery of Nablus rests in the shadow of a large grove of pine trees. Among the hundreds of headstones, those of the intifada victims stand out. Here is the fresh grave of a boy who was killed a few weeks ago at the Hawara checkpoint. The South Africans walk quietly between the graves, pausing at the grave of the mother of our guide, Abu Hijla. She was shot 15 times. “We promise you we will not surrender,” her children wrote on the headstone of the woman who was known as “mother of the poor.”

Lunch is in a hotel in the city, and Madlala-Routledge speaks. “It is hard for me to describe what I am feeling. What I see here is worse than what we experienced. But I am encouraged to find that there are courageous people here. We want to support you in your struggle, by every possible means. There are quite a few Jews in our delegation, and we are very proud that they are the ones who brought us here. They are demonstrating their commitment to support you. In our country we were able to unite all the forces behind one struggle, and there were courageous whites, including Jews, who joined the struggle. I hope we will see more Israeli Jews joining your struggle.”

She was deputy defense minister from 1999 to 2004; in 1987 she served time in prison. Later, I asked her in what ways the situation here is worse than apartheid. “The absolute control of people’s lives, the lack of freedom of movement, the army presence everywhere, the total separation and the extensive destruction we saw.”

Madlala-Routledge thinks that the struggle against the occupation is not succeeding here because of U.S. support for Israel – not the case with apartheid, which international sanctions helped destroy. Here, the racist ideology is also reinforced by religion, which was not the case in South Africa. “Talk about the ‘promised land’ and the ‘chosen people’ adds a religious dimension to racism which we did not have.”

Equally harsh are the remarks of the editor-in-chief of the Sunday Times of South Africa, Mondli Makhanya, 38. “When you observe from afar you know that things are bad, but you do not know how bad. Nothing can prepare you for the evil we have seen here. In a certain sense, it is worse, worse, worse than everything we endured. The level of the apartheid, the racism and the brutality are worse than the worst period of apartheid.

“The apartheid regime viewed the blacks as inferior; I do not think the Israelis see the Palestinians as human beings at all. How can a human brain engineer this total separation, the separate roads, the checkpoints? What we went through was terrible, terrible, terrible – and yet there is no comparison. Here it is more terrible. We also knew that it would end one day; here there is no end in sight. The end of the tunnel is blacker than black.

“Under apartheid, whites and blacks met in certain places. The Israelis and the Palestinians do not meet any longer at all. The separation is total. It seems to me that the Israelis would like the Palestinians to disappear. There was never anything like that in our case. The whites did not want the blacks to disappear. I saw the settlers in Silwan [in East Jerusalem] – people who want to expel other people from their place.”

Afterward we walk silently through the alleys of Balata, the largest refugee camp in the West Bank, a place that was designated 60 years ago to be a temporary haven for 5,000 refugees and is now inhabited by 26,000. In the dark alleys, which are about the width of a thin person, an oppressive silence prevailed. Everyone was immersed in his thoughts, and only the voice of the muezzin broke the stillness.

Also read THIS report from the Independent.


My new birthday
Areej Ja’fari writing from Deheisheh refugee camp, occupied West Bank

Deir Rafat (Areej Ja’fari)
I am a third generation of the Palestinian Nakba, the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland by Zionist forces. The Nakba is not just an occasion we commemorate on 15 May at the same time Israel celebrates its establishment — but a constant memory. I now feel that I am a very lucky person. I never felt lucky before my new birthday: the day I visited my destroyed original village of Deir Rafat, where my grandfather and his family lived before they were forced out in 1948.

From that day I started my new life. I was very scared at the beginning as I approached the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoints even though I had a permit to enter Jerusalem. These feelings of fear vanished the moment I reached some of the destroyed villages of my friends’ families and neighbors. Driving from the Dheisheh refugee camp, crossing the checkpoint and entering the land we were dispossessed of 1948, is like I am in a different country. The green trees, fresh air, no houses, and beautiful landscape that I have not seen in many countries I have visited around the world.

I felt a change inside me when my companions and I saw the Deir Rafat sign on the left side of the road. I could feel my heart racing. I could not wait anymore, I wanted to jump from the car and stand on the land. I wanted to scream so that everyone on this earth could hear me, “This is my village. I am from here!”

Now, I see everything like a movie playing repeatedly in my head over and over again. It is like a painted mural in front of me. I could not believe that this was my village. The pictures that I have drawn in my head from my grandfather stories are nothing compared to the beautiful scenes I was observing with my own eyes.

When I left the car and walked inside the monastery, I got a feeling I never had before, a feeling when your heart is empty and something is filling it. I did not know exactly what this feeling was until now! I didn’t feel that two eyes were enough for me at that moment. I needed and wanted more so I can see the whole village at once. We went down the valley behind the monastery. We saw a destroyed well; the village had nine wells as my grandfather told me. It was heartbreaking when I saw the well was a garbage dump — it should be beautiful and clean with water for drinking.

We continued by car to see olive groves and cacti on both sides of the small roads. Cacti and olives trees are signs of life and inhabitants in that area. We proceeded a bit further, walking and saw some Bedouin tents and their livestock. We climbed a little bit of the hill and some ruins of the village emerged. We saw part of a destroyed house. My heart was filled with strange feelings and my mind was going back and forth between Deir Rafat and Dheisheh. Why can’t my family and I live here in Deir Rafat peacefully? Why can’t my grandfather come back to his land to planet his olive trees as he used to do with his father before 18 July 1948?

I laid down on one of the ruined walls of a house and kept watching the clear blue sky. At that moment I felt the sky was very close and I wanted to hide in it to stay in Deir Rafat. As the clouds passed over, I kept breathing the air again and again as if I could not have enough of it.

I collected some flowers and za’atar baladi. We drove past the well to the other side of the village, with more of the olive trees on both sides of the road and saw a Bedouin tent. A woman there invited us to enter, she knew some of my relatives, and she also told us that they pay 2,000 shekels (about 6,000 USD) every 20 days to the Beit Shemesh Municipality for the tent they live in. I would pay anything and everything to live there, where I should be living. Instead, I am living in a zoo and struggling for my basic rights.

I planted three flowers that I brought with me from Bethlehem near the well. One was for my great-grandfather, the other for my grandfather, and the last one for my family. My village is already beautiful and my flowers will not add to it. Nor did plant them because I will return after 20 years to claim ownership of the land where I planted the flowers. I own the land now and I owned it then, I do not need any evidence. I planted them as a gift to the land I loved even before we met and as my guide to the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope my land liked the gift.

It is time to wake up from this dream, time to return to the Dheisheh refugee camp, which I like, but to which I don’t feel a sense of belonging. It is time to face my family, they were all anxious to know how home looked like, where exactly did I go. I couldn’t reply more than that it’s the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

But I got frustrated after all that joy, my mother wanted so much to also go and see the village. I still cannot go see my grandfather, who has a lot of memories in Deir Rafat: of his childhood, his house, his mother’s grave and his youth. Yet, he cannot go there to visit and I can. It is an unfair world.

Areej Jafari is origionally from the village of Deir Rafat and was born and raised in Dheisheh refugee camp. She holds a BS in Computers and Information Systems from Bethlehem University and currently works at the Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh refugee camp.



‘The Exodus’ by Ismael Shammout

More than six million Palestinian refugees

On the eve of the International day of the refugee, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) released a statistical review on the status of Palestinian Refugees. The main findings are summarized as follows:

-According to UNRWA records Palestinian registered refugees totaled to 4.56 million at end of 2007, of whom 41.7% in Jordan, 23.0% in Gaza Strip, 16.3% in the West Bank, 9.9% in Syria and 9.1% in Lebanon. About 1.5 million Palestinians refugee are estimated to be non-registered refugees. Therefore, the total Palestinian refugee population totals more than six million people.

-The percentage of Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian Territories 2006 represents 44.6% of the total Palestinian Territory population, of which 19.4% are in the West Bank and 25.2% in Gaza Strip.

-The refugees in the Palestinian Territories are characterized as a young population, 45.8% of them being under the age of 15 years, compared to 45.3% for non-refugees. On the other hand 2.8% of refugees are aged 65 years and over, compared to 3.1% for the non refugee population in the Palestinian Territories for the year 2006.

-The percentage of Palestinian refugees aged less than 15 years of the total refugee population in Jordan in 2000 reached 41.7%, 33.1% in Syria in 2003, and 33.0% in Lebanon in 2006.

-The sex ratio of the refugee population in the Palestinian Territory is almost the same as of the non-refugees at 101.8 and 102.0 males per one-hundred females respectively compared to 102.3 for Palestinian refugees in Syria, and 98.5 for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

-The total Fertility Rate for refugees in the Palestinian Territories was 4.9 birth per women for 2006, on the other hand the total fertility rate of the Palestinian refugee women in 2000 in Jordan was 4.6 children compared to 2.4 in Syria and 2.3 in Lebanon in 2006.

-The average household size for refugees in the Palestinian Territories for 2006 was 6.3 person, whereas in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon they are 5.4, 4.1, and 3.8 respectively.

-2.6% of the Palestinian refugees are disabled, compared to 2.4% for the non-refugees.

-9.8% of Palestinian refugees suffer chronic diseases and receive medication which is higher than the national percentage of 9.6% and the non-refugees percentage of 9.4%.

-The percentage of poor households headed by Palestinian refugee is 43.1% of the total poor households in the Palestinian Territories.

-The unemployment rate of Palestinian refugees 15 years and over in the Palestinian Territories during the first quarter 2008, was 26.1% compared with 20.0% for non refugee.

-Approximately 62.5% of the employed persons are wage employees (67.7% for refugees and 58.9% for non-refugees). The percentage of those who own their business is 24.3% (21.0% for refugees and 26.5% for non-refugees).

-The illiteracy rate of Palestinian refugees 15 years and over in the Palestinian Territories during the first quarter 2007, was 5.7% compared with 6.5% for non refugees.

-The illiteracy rate among Palestinian refugees in Jordanian refugee camps in 2000 was approximately 17.6%, in Syria the rate in 2006 was 16.5%, and in Lebanon the rate in 2006 was almost 25.5%.

-The dropout rate for refugees aged 6 years and above at schools in the Palestinian Territories in 2006 reached 22.6%, of which 23.4% for males and 21.8% for females compared to 27.2% for the non-refugees, of which 28.6% for males and 25.7% for females.



Remembering 1948 and looking to the future
Ali Abunimah

Twenty-six-year-old Jamila Merhi was forced from her family’s home in Akbara village near Safad, Palestine in 1948. Now, 86, she lives in the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon and still holds onto a copy of her family’s deed for their land in Palestine. (Matthew Cassel)

This month Israel marks the 60th anniversary of its founding. But amidst the festivities including visits by international celebrities and politicians there is deep unease — Israel has skeletons in its closet that it has tried hard to hide, and anxieties about an uncertain future which make many Israelis question whether the state will celebrate an 80th birthday.

Official Israel remains in complete denial that the birth it celebrates is inextricably linked with the near destruction of the vibrant Palestinian culture and society that had existed until then. It’s not an unfamiliar dilemma for settler states. The United States, where I live, has found that even the passage of centuries cannot absolve a nation from confronting the crimes committed at its founding.

As the noted Israeli historian and staunch Zionist Benny Morris put it in 2004, “a Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them.” He went on, “there are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing.”

But if one is not prepared to openly justify ethnic cleansing, there’s only two real options: to deny history and take comfort in an airbrushed story that paints Israelis as brave, divinely inspired pioneers in a desert devoid of indigenous people and beset by external enemies, or to own up to the consequences and support the enormous redress needed to bring justice and peace.

Just before Israel’s founding, Palestinians of all religions made up two thirds of the settled population of historic Palestine, while Jewish immigrants, recently arrived from Europe, made up most of the rest.

Among those uprooted was my mother, then nine years old. Now living in Amman, she remembers a happy childhood in her native Jerusalem neighborhood of Lifta. My grandfather owned several buildings and many of his tenants were Jews, including the family who rented the downstairs apartment in their house.

Early in 1948 — before any Arab states’ armies got involved — she and her entire family, indeed all the inhabitants of several neighboring West Jerusalem areas, were forced out by Zionist militias. On 7 February that year, Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion told members of his party, “From your entry into Jerusalem, through Lifta-Romema, through Mahane Yehuda, through King George Street and Mea Shearim — there are no strangers [i.e. Arabs]. One hundred percent Jews.” So it was that the Palestinians became “strangers” in the land of their birth.

Since that time millions of refugees and their descendants who lost their homes, farms, groves, livestock, factories, stores, tools, automobiles, bank accounts, art work, insurance policies, furniture and every other possession have lived in exile, many in squalid refugee camps maintained by Israel and Arab states. Over 80 percent of the Palestinians now besieged and starved in the Gaza Strip are refugees from towns now in Israel. But what Palestinians could never be forced to part with — and this we do celebrate — is our attachment to our homeland and the determination to see justice done.

Palestinians all over the world are commemorating the start of our ongoing tragedy, but we are also looking forward. We are at an important turning point, where two things are happening at once. First, despite ritual declarations of international support, the prospect of a two-state solution has all but disappeared as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are caged into walled reservations by growing Israeli settlements and settler-only roads — a situation that resembles the bantustans of apartheid South Africa.

Second, despite Israel’s efforts to keep Palestinians in check, the Palestinian population living under Israeli rule is about to exceed the five million Israeli Jews. Today there are 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and another 1.5 million Palestinians who are nominally citizens of Israel. Sometimes called “Israeli Arabs,” Palestinians in Israel are increasingly restive about their second class status in a Jewish state that regards them as a hostile fifth column. While Palestinians in Israel call for equal rights in a state of all its citizens, some Israeli Jewish politicians threaten them with expulsion to the West Bank, Gaza Strip or beyond.

Official projections show that by 2025, Palestinians, due to their much higher birth rate, will exceed Israeli Jews in the country by two million and though few in the international community have woken up to this reality, a surgical separation between these populations is impossible.

Israeli leaders understand what they are up against; Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last November: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”

This struggle has already begun as more and more Palestinians, recognizing that statehood is unrealistic, debate and adopt the one-state solution, offering Israelis and Palestinians equal rights in the land they share. Last year, I was part of a group of Palestinians, Israelis and others who published the “One State Declaration.” Inspired partly by South Africa’s Freedom Charter, we set out principles for a common future in a single democratic state. Most Israelis, unsurprisingly, recoil at comparisons with apartheid South Africa. The good news for them is that the end of apartheid did not bring about the disaster many feared. Rather, it was a new dawn for all the people of the country.



By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem

Ali Abu  Zour's ID card from 1950

Ali Abu Zour’s ID card from 1950, the year the Balata refugee camp was established


To get to Ali Abu Zour’s living quarters, you have to fold yourself into an improbable shape, and stoop-crawl-walk through the square hole in the back of his shop.

Once we had reached the bare room next to the kitchen, we decided it would be better to go back to the shop: just as comfortable, and he might not lose any passing business, as we talked.

Outside was the glare and the noise of the main market drag of Balata refugee camp, close to Nablus. Inside Mr Abu Zour’s shop, the light was dull and greyish, the shelves filled with dusty packets of soap powder and floor cleaner.

On a plastic stool by his side, sat Mr Abu Zour’s youngest son, 14-year-old Mohammed.

He grinned toothily as his father produced his ID card from 60 years ago.

In the photo, Ali may have been wearing a jacket and tie where Mohammed was now wearing a black t-shirt.

But other than that, the two boys were indistinguishable – replete with quiff, searching eyes, and large front teeth.

Ali Abu Zour lived in a village near Jaffa that no longer exists. The residents of Abu Kishk fled or were forced from their homes in 1948.

Ali Abu Zour in his shop in the Balat refugee camp

Inside Ali’s shop in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank

In 1950, Ali Abu Zour and his family wound up in Balata, the year that the United Nations set up a refugee camp there.

Mr Abu Zour recalled the small collection of tents. Balata is now the biggest of the Palestinian refugee camps on the West Bank, a concrete jumble, home to more than 20,000.

Shortly after arriving in 1950, his father was given the chance to buy five dunams (half a hectare) of land, close to the camp, for 75 Jordanian dinars.

Mr Abu Zour says his father barely considered the offer, telling the vendor that he was planning to stay only a week or two, or a month at most.

Mr Abu Zour laughed. “And here I am, nearly 60 years later.”

He insists that he keeps alive the dream of returning to what he says were the 200 dunams of land his family owned in Abu Kishk.

Mr Abu Zour looks younger than his 71 years. He has 12 children: 10 daughters and two sons. A third son died in the first intifada, killed in front of Mr Abu Zour eyes by an Israeli soldier. He did not go into details. “But it is still very difficult,” he said.


Before we left his shop, Mr Abu Zour asked that we stay and listen to a story; a story for the 60th anniversary of the Nakba (the “catastophe” – the name given by Palestinians and Arabs to the founding of the State of Israel) commemorated on 15 May:

During the 1973 war (Israel against Egypt and Syria), we were sitting in my house watching Syrian TV while they were covering the fighting.

My older sister was sitting behind me. She is dead now.

And we saw a picture on the Syrian TV when they captured an Israeli air force pilot. We saw that he was injured.

My older sister, she said: “Haram [Shame]! O my God, he’s injured.”

I told her: “He’s Jewish, he’s Israeli,” because I thought she didn’t realise.

She said that she knew.

“Look my brother, I’m a mother. And I look at him now as a mother. And I know that his mother may be seeing these pictures, and her heart is breaking,” my sister explained.

And I said to my sister: “If I thought that we can pray for anyone other than God, I would pray for your great emotions, because of what you are feeling.”

Her name was Umm Ibrahim [the mother of Ibrahim]. And she just had one cow in the family. Once she went to check the cow. In her way were some Israeli soldiers. They threw a tear gas grenade at her. And she died from this tear gas.

In her heart she had mercy for everyone, even for her enemies… those same enemies who ended up killing her and her people, and stealing her land. But this didn’t do her any good – this mercy. She was killed by the Israelis.

I don’t want to blame anyone falsely. I do know that there are men and women in Israel who have mercy in their hearts.

Once at the entrance to the camp at Balata, I saw lots of Israeli soldiers. And there were a few kids who were getting ready to throw stones.

One of these soldiers, he saw me. He walked straight up to me and he said to me: “Please tell these kids not to throw stones, because my mother she told me not to shoot anyone.”

At this time, I remembered my sister Umm Ibrahim. I thought that they – the Israelis – have Umm Ishaq [Ishaq being the Arabic for Isaac – a popular Jewish name].

If Umm Ishaq became the prime minister in Israel, and Umm Ibrahim the president in Palestine, then there would be peace.


Rarely seen archival photographs alongside Palestinian survivors remembering the 1948 ‘ Nakba ‘ (Catastrophe), describing the expulsion from their land on which the suburbs of Tel Aviv have since been built and their subsequent struggles as refugees. Memories include the terror immediately prior to fleeing, the slow realisation that they would not be returning home soon, the struggle to rebuild their lives in cramped refugee camps, and the increased resistance that grew once the Israeli military pursued them to the refugee camps.



Image ‘Copyleft’ by Carlos Latuff

Palestine, a nation almost completely forgotten by the world, a nation that continues to suffer daily under the yolk of zionist occupation. But, Palestine survives and will be reborn despite all odds that are against Her.
In this series I will present accounts of various incidents that occurred during the Nakba. These are tales that must be known to all… Palestine must be remembered…
This installment is the story of those refugees living in camps, unrecognised by all…


Mohammed and Maysa with relatives

Mohammed and Maysa (centre) face many problems over their status

Mohammed and his sister Maysa are Palestinians, but they have no passports and no identity cards.

They are not even given the status of refugees. Legally, they don’t seem to exist at all.

They are among about 3,000 so-called “non-ID” Palestinians in Lebanon.

Many don’t qualify for aid and have been unable to leave the refugee camps, find jobs or even get married.

“Last year the government prevented me from doing my exams,” says Mohammed, a 21-year-old student.

“They arrested me because I don’t have an ID. Without an ID, I can’t do anything.”

“We face many problems,” says his sister Maysa. “No travel, no marriage, no work. We live in the camp like a prison.”

Their mother Aida has lived a life of regret.

“It’s my husband’s problem,” she says. “If I had known at the time what a big issue this would be for us, I would never have married him.”

Late arrivals

Aida’s husband is one of the original “non-ID” Palestinians who came to Lebanon in the 1970s. His lack of official status has been passed on to his children.

Their situation is very different from that of the majority of Lebanon’s 400,000 Palestinian refugees. Most come from families who fled here when the state of Israel was created in 1948.

I was forced to be a fighter. If this continues, I will tell my children and my grandchildren to be fighters too
Ragheb Bitar

But the “non-ID” Palestinians arrived more than 20 years later via Jordan. Many of them came to Lebanon to fight for the Palestine Liberation Organisation after its expulsion from Jordan in 1971.”They cannot move out of the camp. They cannot work officially. They cannot register their marriages, their births, their deaths.

“They cannot own a car or a motorbike. So they face a lot of problems,” says Mireille Chiha of the Danish Refugee Council, an organisation which has been working with the families.

On a hill overlooking Ein al-Hilweh, the biggest refugee camp in Lebanon, I meet one of the original “non-ID” Palestinians.

Surrounded by chickens and almond trees, Ragheb Bitar looks every inch the proud former warrior. He fought in many wars against Israel.

But for the past 20 years, he hasn’t been able to go beyond the camp’s perimeter fence or see some of his children.

“People without IDs, we are all prisoners,” he says. “I was forced to be a fighter. If this continues, I will tell my children and my grandchildren to be fighters too.”

Promised liberty

That is a possibility that is worrying the Lebanese government. Relations with the Palestinians have a complex and turbulent history.


With hundreds of thousands of refugees already registered in this small country, the authorities have been reluctant since the 1970s to accept any extra burden.But that could finally be about to change.

Dr Khalil Makkawi represents the Lebanese government. He says “non-IDs” will now get similar status to the others.

“They will be able to move freely from one place to the other,” he says “They will have the liberty to do whatever they want just like other Palestinians in Lebanon.”

The process of documenting the “non-ID” Palestinians will begin over the next few weeks. Why the change of policy?

It’s partly an acceptance of the reality that these people are Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, with nowhere else to go.

Dr Makkawi also says that there is a potential security risk, if thousands of people are living in the camps with no official identity.

Equality for “non-ID” refugees, though, won’t help solve a much bigger issue.

The fate of all the 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon is still unsettled, after almost 60 years.

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